Aerial photographs (or those magnificent men in their flying machines!)

For the past 5 years I’ve blogged about being a Historic Environment Record Officer for Leicestershire County Council, a job I’ve been doing for 13 years.  I maintain the database containing information about all known archaeological remains in Leicestershire and Rutland.  In my blogs I’ve talked about various things, some of which explain my job more than others!  But this year, since it’s the last one, I thought I’d just post a bunch of lovely piccies.  🙂

One of the big projects we’ve been doing over the couple of years is adding metadata to slides we’ve had digitised and linking them to the HER database.  We have many years of this to do, at the current rate of progress, but it should make the images easier to access.  Some of them are the only evidence for cropmark sites, or show earthwork sites that have since been ploughed away, so being able to easily provide that evidence when questioned is really helpful!

Most of our slide images were taken in the 1970s and 80s, though there are a few from c.1990.

1970s cropmark MLE5262

This is a photograph of Iron Age enclosure cropmarks west of Hawkeswell Spinney, Exton and Horn parish, Rutland (MLE5262).  It’s an example of how little metadata we have for some of the slides, since the only information given was its old site reference and a grid reference – there is no date.  We can assume it was taken in the 1970s.  Some slides have even less information than this, which means detective work is required.

1986 photo MLE2485

This slide, helpfully date stamped, is a 1986 snowy photograph of Great Stretton deserted medieval village (HER Ref No. MLE2485).  Some of the snow covered pictures are very good at showing up earthworks.  They also look rather beautiful!

1981 photo MLE330

This is a photograph of an Iron Age enclosure north-west of Newhall, Thurlaston (HER Ref. No. MLE330).  In the late 1970s the enclosure’s ditch survived to a depth of about a metre, though ploughing quickly eroded the feature – it appears to survive largely as a cropmark by the time of this 1981 photo.  (You can also see cropmarks of medieval ridge and furrow earthworks around it.)

1975 photo MLE440

We have a lot of photographs of this site – this is a 1975 photo of Hamilton deserted medieval village, Barkby Thorpe (just outside Leicester city) (HER Ref. No. MLE440).  You can clearly see well preserved village earthworks across the site, as well as medieval ridge and furrow earthworks in the fields outside the village.  Leicestershire has numerous deserted medieval villages, and quite a lot of ridge and furrow (though it’s gradually being eroded by modern farming).

1981 photo MLE16325

Another snowy picture, this one taken in 1981.  It shows the edge of Houghton on the Hill village (HER Ref. No. MLE16325), though the main interest in the picture is the ridge and furrow.  You can see how the earthworks bend in their characteristic ‘reverse-S’ shape, apparently caused by the ploughman turning his oxen at the end of each strip.

1970s photo MLE3183

Here’s a rather good shot of a Bronze Age barrow cemetery south-east of Elms Farm, Sheepy (HER Ref. No. MLE3183).  In all, at least 12 barrows have been recorded here from various aerial photographs, as well as other linears and pit alignments.  Crops have to be at a particular stage in their growth to show cropmarks well, and it also depends on the weather (dry years are better!).

1976 photo MLE3012

And here’s a cropmark from a particularly dry year – the legendary 1976.  It may not be the most exciting of sites, but you can see how the conditions have come together to produce a fine image of an Iron Age ditch and enclosure, at Peckleton (HER Ref. No. MLE3011 & MLE3012).  Some of our sites are only known from images taken in one year, however much we might search the abundance of aerial photography available today to find them again.  I have no doubt there are numerous sites awaiting discovery on the photos you can view via Google!

1980 photo MLE10129

As well as conditions needing to be right for cropmark sites, I should point out that conditions also need to be right for earthworks.  This is another picture of  Houghton on the Hill village (HER Ref. No. MLE16325), though it also includes some other earthworks including pond earthworks south of the church (HER Ref. No. MLE21529).  It was taken on 16th December 1980.  You can see that low winter light is the best for earthworks, with everything casting long shadows.

I hope that’s been at least vaguely interesting!  As we link photographs to our HER records the thumbnails are visible on the Heritage Gateway (click on the links below the photos above to check out the other images available).  Thanks are due to the photographers who took these photos, particularly RF Hartley (formerly of the Leicestershire Museums Service).  I should also mention Jim Pickering for his work in Leicestershire, since he has provided us with an excellent collection of images.

One thought on “Aerial photographs (or those magnificent men in their flying machines!)

  1. Roger J C thomas says:

    Thanks Helen, a nice selection of images

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